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Do You Know Where Your Fat Goes When You Lose Weight?

fat and weight loss

You are losing weight and that's great, but where is the fat going?


Obesity and being overweight are conditions plaguing America. People are living high-stress lives or are mostly sedentary because they're cooped up in cubicles working all day, then eating McDonald's for lunch or some other fast food because they're too busy and stressed to make real food. In fact, experts say that primary care doctors may have guidelines now that dictate they should offer behavioral weight loss counseling for patients who are overweight in an effort to help curb this epidemic. This counseling involves a range of services, including medical assistants who have received training in weight loss counseling providing care to patients, doctors directly advising patients on weight loss, and even patients calling up call care centers specializing in weight loss counseling.

If you're trying to lose weight, you most likely had some kind of help from a professional, or at least were given advice by your doctor, a medical assistant, nurse, or some other health professional. But, did they tell you where the weight goes? Knowing what happens to your weight when you lose it can help motivate you to lose weight.

Where Does the Fat Go When You Lose Weight?

Weight loss is hard work! But have you ever wondered what happens when you lose weight? Where do those fat cells and calories go? Does that “weight” get flushed down the toilet? Do the fat cells disappear into thin air?

If you think back to science class, you may remember the law of conservation of mass. According to this principle, mass can't be created or destroyed. So the commonly-held belief that fat is “burned” and turned into energy or heat just doesn't compute because with this equation, the mass would necessarily be destroyed! Mass can change its form, though, and that's exactly what happens when you lose weight.

What Happens When You Lose Weight?

Weight loss involves some very complex processes that occur at a cellular level. It all starts when you eat more calories than you expend. That excess energy is put into storage as triglycerides, comprised of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon. Your body stores those triglycerides in fat cells. As you're working hard to shed that extra poundage, your body “burns” fat by releasing those triglycerides into your bloodstream. The triglycerides separate into little bits called fatty acids. Your blood transports those fatty acids to various locations throughout your body so your tissues can use the fatty acids as fuel.

In order to actually convert the fatty acids into fuel, your body breaks the fatty acids' chemical bonds. When you break those bonds, you get energy. The “leftovers” from this process are carbon dioxide and water.

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Your body expends water in lots of different ways, including through tears, urine, saliva and sweat. So lots of the fat that your body burns is, indeed, flushed down the toilet. The carbon dioxide is exhaled. Therefore, it's fair to say that a portion of those extra pounds quite literally disappears into thin air!

According to a study published in the December 2014 edition of The British Medical Journal, your lungs are “the primary excretory organ for weight loss.” The study revealed that if you lose a total of 10 pounds, 8.4 of those pounds would be exhaled as carbon dioxide! What's more, in order to burn a single pound of weight, you'll need to inhale approximately three pounds of oxygen. This initiates a metabolic process that generates a pound of water and nearly three pounds of carbon dioxide.

It's important to remember that breathing alone won't help you burn weight in any significant way. While your lungs do expel lots of excess weight in the form of carbon dioxide, they're not responsible for breaking down fat cells. In other words, exhaling carbon dioxide is the last step in a complex process for “burning” fat so breathing won't help you slim down.

What Does it Mean to Lose Water Weight?

If you're on a weight loss journey and weighing yourself on a daily basis, then you've probably noticed a fair bit of fluctuation – fluctuation that can be largely attributed to water weight (amongst other things, like urine, feces and a recently-eaten meal.)

So is losing water weight a real form of weight loss? It's a fair question, especially when you consider that water comprises up to 60 percent of your body mass and H2O accounts for about 90 percent of your body weight.

Technically, shedding “water weight” does result in weight loss, since your body will weigh less and less as water is expelled in the form of sweat or urine. But that weight loss is usually temporary and it's not “real” weight loss since you're not burning calories and fat.

Your body can store water in its cells. This water storage process can result in conditions such as bloating and edema. You can use diuretics to help expel this extra water. Others try to sweat it out in saunas. If your body is storing more water than it actually needs, then some of that weight will stay off. But if you're dehydrating yourself --- that is, causing your body to expel water that it needs to function properly --- then you're going to gain it all back the moment you rehydrate.

Dehydrating your body in order to weigh less is a bit like drawing blood or lopping off a leg. Sure, you'll weigh less, but it comes at the price of something you need to thrive! In fact, drinking lots of water is a key part of the weight loss process, so focus on burning fat, not losing “water weight.”